There were fire crystals on the ground. They’d been half-dug out by the Fox tribesmen but froze over once again.
However, the chiefs had better weapons and were stronger. With the help of the glowing crystal, the three started to dig fast. However, they were also cautious in case other people like Fox or Shen tribesmen came.
Shao Xuan planned to enter the pit where they mined the fire crystals from. There was a layer of white ice on the pit walls. He tied and let a rope down, then slid down the pit using the rope.
The pit was deep with smooth walls, using a rope was more convenient.
When he was inside, he stepped directly on a part where the beast had been.
Without the beast, there was a long tunnel in its wake. The rock around the tunnel was covered in a layer of white ice. Although thin, it was frozen rock so it was hard.
The air was cold. Shao Xuan could not even feel the heat from his breath.
He could sense that there were more crystals around this ‘tunnel’. Perhaps the long beast stayed here because of the fire crystals, like the bat king years ago.
However, it's been centuries and this ‘snake’ has never made an appearance. Was it hibernating? For centuries? That was a very long nap. Not sure how old this creature was.
Waving his sword, he scratched away the layer of ice and pried out some fire crystals in the wall. Shao Xuan sensed that some of the energy in the crystal had already been absorbed, though there was some left.
Did the snake do it?
He didn’t have time. Shao Xuan waved his sword faster. He did not need the glowing crystal, for he could already see where all the fire crystals were with his special vision.
Within the tunnel, the sound of Shao Xuan mining the crystals echoed together with the sound of Zheng Luo and the rest mining above the pit.
When they finished picking up all the fire crystals, they also found all the crystals the frozen men had hidden in various parts of their bodies and put the crystals in their pouches. The three leapt into the long ‘tunnel’.
“We initially planned to come take the salt mines from Fox, can’t believe we took their fire crystals too,” said the Taihe chief with a chuckle.
No matter what, with the fire crystals, their heavy hearts were somewhat comforted.
The Fox tribe had already mined into this layer of fire crystals so every piece of crystal was larger than the ones found in the Flaming Horn cave.
The three chiefs rested for a while then got up again. No one knew how long the king beast would be gone for. They wanted to take this opportunity to dig more. When the beast returned, they’d slip away.
“I’ve lived for a long time but I’ve never seen so many fire crystals.” The Taihe chief’s breathing quickened, not sure from the mining or excitement.
“I’ve lived for eighty years, yet I have never seen so many,” sighed Mountain Wind’s Lanmu.
Shao Xuan’s digging stopped for a moment. Zheng Luo remained silent.
Taihe’s chief’s eyes darted at Zheng Luo but he did not speak.
The three chiefs looked the same age- around forty. However, in reality, they were a lot older than Zheng Luo.
Perhaps the tribes unfamiliar with Flaming Horn did not know this, but Taihe, due to close trade relations, knew that out of all the tribes, the average lifespan of a Flaming Horn tribesman was the shortest.
Shao Xuan only knew this recently. On the other side of the ocean, he suspected this too but wasn’t sure. He only knew the truth when he arrived. The Flaming Horn tribe was different in many ways but compared to an ordinary weaker human, their lifespan was shorter.
Many of the Taihe tribesmen on this excursion were over a hundred although they looked middle-aged. However, if the Flaming Horn members ever lived above a hundred, they would not hunt or do heavy labour. Towards the end of their lives, they aged and weakened very quickly.
Because their lives were incomplete.
This was an unexpected consequence from splitting the fire seed.
Years ago, their ancestors were extremely regretful because of this. Consequently, their handwritten records were filled with self-blame and guilt not just because of their inability to return to their homelands but mostly because they felt they were being punished with incomplete life cycles.
The Flaming Horn people were stronger than others in many aspects but in terms of lifespan, it was as if there was a knife that chopped their path in two before they could finish their life’s journey.
On the other side, perhaps the shaman knew of this but he did not tell the others. Plus the Flaming Horn people there were isolated from the rest of the world so they did not notice. They lived with no resentment of this. On this side, the tribesmen did not socialise much with the outside world either so most did not notice. Only a portion knew and they kept it to themselves.
In the past years, their ancestors had allowed inter-tribal marriages perhaps to use another bloodline to solve this problem. Unfortunately, this problem persisted. Their blood was too strong.
In the beginning, Shao Xuan read mostly notes filled with guilt but they never directly mentioned the reason. It was only after Shao Xuan returned from Gongjia Mountain to practice controlling the bone ornament when the shamaness told him.
There were many people who knew their lives were shorter than other tribes but they did not know the reason. Some people thought it was nature’s way of balancing their extraordinary strength. They must have been given a magical source of energy, that was why something must offset this power. Most people were satisfied with this explanation.
The shamans did not tell them because they did not want the tribe to lose hope. It had been a thousand years and yet they still could not return. Somehow, after so many generations, this matter was slowly forgotten and only the highest-ranked members knew. Only Zheng Luo and the shamaness knew the true reason.
Shao Xuan’s arrival was a ray of hope.
In this past year, the shamaness had sent several batches of people to the coast where Shao Xuan arrived to wait for an opportunity for the whole tribe to move. However, nothing happened. No one knew when another opportunity would come.
How will they return?
Shao Xuan was deep in thought, distractedly mining the crystals.
The Mountain Wind chief noticed the odd tension in the atmosphere.
“I’ll check out the place.” Shao Xuan passed the fire crystals he mined to Zheng Luo and ran along the tunnel.
As he ran, Shao Xuan identified directions and calculated the distance until he stopped and looked at the top of the ‘tunnel’. This should be close to the Flaming Horn’s salt cave. Not directly above but diagonally above him.
He did not dig immediately. Shao Xuan continued walking along the tunnel until the end. This was where the king beast shot out of the ground but the hole was already sealed with a very thick layer of ice. The nearer he got to the hole, the colder it got.
Shao Xuan did not walk over. He merely listened. He could not hear the beast. Then, he turned around.
If the king beast sealed the hole with ice, it must not intend to return soon.
He called for the rest to come over and told them about his deductions. He planned to dig downwards from the Flaming Horn cave.
If they really were going to be trapped here for a few days, they couldn’t keep coming over through Fox’s cave, right? The beast had targeted Fox’s cave. They might anger the king beast. If the Fox and Shen people returned, they would not be able to avoid war too. There was no need to start a war in this climate.
All four agreed.
Shao Xuan quickly slashed his sword like a shovel, breaking the ice layer and dug around the rocks on the wall of the tunnel.
The other three also helped.
They weren’t sure of the situation outside so they couldn’t leave immediately. Might as well use the time to mine more crystals. Even if they had to fight the beast later, they would protect a team with their lives so they could bring the fire crystals back. All this could last the tribes a very long time.
The area they dug was not large. In the beginning, the rock was hard but as they dug upwards, it got easier.
Within the Flaming Horn cave, the warriors guarding the fire crystal pit panicked and ran to look for Duo Kang.
Duo Kang sent a portion of the people in the lower floor up in case the same frost incident happened. When that was done, he and a few men cautiously approached the fire crystal pit. If they saw any signs of frost, they would sprint away immediately.
Other than a king beast, what else lived underground?
Crush, crush, crush---
The sounds grew clearer. It did not sound like a king beast, there was no chilling aura. There was no frost either.
Enemies? Perhaps either the Fox or Shen tribe?
Duo Kang grew more alert and slowly inched forward. He craned his neck into the pit and gestured for everyone to be on guard.
They all clutched their weapons, so nervous their faces twitched. They were traumatised by the king beast and definitely did not want to see something else sprout from the ground. They hoped they’d see another human being. It didn’t matter if it was the Shen or Fox tribe, as long as it was human.
The sounds grew closer.
All the people around the pit were tense. It did not sound like a beast.
The ground seemed to loosen.
Duo Kang lifted a hand.
Poof! Rumble rumble.
Some soil and rocks were pushed aside.
Duo Kang was about to wave and yell ‘Attack!’ when he saw four dusty faces.
Three chiefs and their tribe Elder leapt out of the hole!
The four of them had finally completed the arduous task of digging upwards only to see axes, swords and knives pointing at their faces.